Australia & New Zealand: Water deficits will shrink in Australia but persist in the north

22 April 2019

THE BIG PICTURE
The 12-month forecast through December 2019 shows widespread, exceptional water deficits in Northern Territory reaching west through the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, and farther north in the Kimberley region. Exceptional deficits are also forecast for southwestern Queensland east of the Simpson Desert.

Regions where deficits will be nearly as intense include Australia’s southeastern coast from Adelaide past Melbourne; Tasmania; along the east coast from Rockhampton in Queensland past Brisbane and into South Australia; and the southwestern tip of Western Australia from Perth to Albany.

Moderate to extreme deficits are forecast for large pockets in Queensland including the Darling Downs and southwestern Queensland.

Surpluses are forecast for northeastern Queensland south of Townsville and west of Cairns, and northwestern Queensland east of the Selwyn Range. Intense surpluses are forecast in southeastern Northern Territory east of the MacDonnell Range.

In New Caledonia, exceptional deficits are forecast. Deficits of varying intensity are expected in New Zealand.

FORECAST BREAKDOWN
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in greater detail.

The forecast through June indicates that widespread, exceptional deficits that have dominated much of Australia in prior months will nearly disappear. Exceptional deficits are forecast in Top End, Northern Territory (NT) north of the Katherine River and a pocket in the upper reaches of the Victoria River. Moderate to severe deficits are forecast for the remainder of the northern half of NT and extending west into the Kimberley region in Western Australia (WA), and east along the southern shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Moderate deficits are forecast surrounding the Gregory Range in northern Queensland (QLD); and, some pockets of moderate surplus east of the Selwyn Range, in the western Atherton Tableland, and south of Townsville.

In Australia’s southeastern quadrant, primarily moderate deficits are expected from Adelaide through Victoria, with some more intense pockets east of Melbourne. Moderate deficits are forecast along the Murray, Darling, Lachlan, Macquarie, and Barwon Rivers. Severe to extreme deficits are expected in northeastern New South Wales, and severe to exceptional deficits in Tasmania. In WA’s southwestern tip deficits will be severe.

A large pocket of exceptional surplus is forecast in southeast Northern Territory east of the MacDonnell Range.

Moderate to extreme deficits are forecast for New Zealand, and extreme to exceptional deficits in New Caledonia.

From July through September the extent of exceptional deficits will increase in northern NT and exceptional deficits will emerge in the Fitzroy and Ord River regions of northern WA. Deficits will emerge in the Cape York Peninsula of northern QLD, and surpluses in the region will diminish. Deficits in WA’s southwestern tip will intensify, becoming extreme to exceptional. In southeastern Australia, deficits will shrink leaving some primarily moderate anomalies from Adelaide through Victoria, and in a path from Canberra north to Brisbane. Conditions will normalize along most rivers in the Murray-Darling system. Deficits in Tasmania will downgrade but severe to extreme deficits are expected in the east. Some moderate deficits are expected in New Zealand, and severe deficits in New Caledonia.

The forecast for the final months – October through December – indicates mild deficits in most of Australia with moderate deficits across the north and in Victoria, severe deficits in the southwest tip of WA, and severe to extreme deficits in Tasmania. Some moderate deficits are expected in New Zealand and New Caledonia.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

IMPACTS
The value of Australia’s agriculture industry has fallen from AUD $63.8 billion (USD $45.5 billion) two years ago to AUD $58 billion (USD $41 billion) largely due to drought, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

Farmers in Australia are postponing the purchase of fertilizer and other crop control products following a grim outlook on the drought plaguing the country’s east coast after the hottest summer on record. A fourth-generation grazier who is selling his family property has lost hope, claiming that it could take a decade of better-than-average conditions for pastoralists to recover from the New South Wales drought.

As food sources for sheep dwindle in drought, some Australian sheep farmers are reorienting their businesses toward other means of income, including growing wheat and other more drought-tolerant grains. Australian wool production is expected to drop more than 10 percent over last year.

Coffee lovers in South Australia have been complaining about recent shortages of a popular bottled iced coffee brand whose manufacturer blames the shortage on drought and high milk demand.

Irrigation farmers in New South Wales have until December 2019 to outfit their irrigation pumps with expensive telemetry equipment that will transmit real-time records of pumped water, as drought persists across 95 percent of the state. The mandate comes after the indictment of a cotton farmer found to be illegally irrigating and after massive fish kills in the Murray-Darling Basin rang alarms about water management.

Tropical Cyclone Trevor flooded Cape York, Queensland, in late March, damaging homes and knocking out power to the town of Coen.

At least one person died amid heavy downpours in New Zealand that washed away a bridge in the West Coast region of South Island, prompting a state of emergency. Some areas reported over 800mm (31 inches) of rainfall.

NOTE ON ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES
There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.

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Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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